“Have You Heard It? Can You Remember?”

“The castle of Cair Paravel on its little hill towered up above them; before them were the sands, with rocks and little pools of salt water, and sea weed, and the smell of the sea, and long miles of bluish-green waves breaking forever and ever on the beach. And, oh, the cry of the sea gulls! Have you heard it? Can you remember?”

— C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

This passage has always stayed in my mind, as the best evocation of the feeling of being at the sea shore that I’ve ever read.

Also, as a writer, I’ve thought a lot about the oddities of this passage — why it’s effective, and how I could learn from it.

Did you read the Narnia books when you were a child–or now, as an adult? I’m home in Kansas City for my high school reunion, and I came across my sister’s old copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I’ve read this book a hundred times, and I love it more each time.

7 Tips To Make It Easier To Have Healthy Eating Habits.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: 7 tips that make it easier to have healthy eating habits.

Many people were very intrigued by my interview with behavioral scientist Brian Wansink and his ideas. He studies eating behavior and consumer habits, and has a book that just came out: Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

I asked him for some of his top tips, and he gave me these excellent suggestions to “Help your kitchen make you slim.”

  1. Serve vegetables first.
  2. Serve the main dish from the stove or counter, so that to get seconds, you have to stand up and go get more. (This combines the Strategy of Inconvenience, because you can’t just reach out to take more food, and the Strategy of Monitoring, because you can keep track better of how much you’re eating.)
  3. Use dinner plates that are 9-10 wide. We eat less when we use a smaller plate, but American plate sizes have been steadily growing.
  4. Sit at a table, with the TV off. People eat more, without noticing, if they’re watching TV. And if you have to sit at a table to eat, you’ve made it harder to have impulsive snacks.
  5. Keep two or fewer cans of sugary drinks in your fridge.
  6. Keep your kitchen counters organized, not messy. (I was interested to see this one — it confirms my argument about the Strategy of Foundation and the importance of “uncluttering.”)
  7. Keep snack foods in one inconvenient cupboard. (Again, the Strategy of Inconvenience.)

What would be your best tips? I remind myself of one of my Secrets of Adulthood for Habits: It’s easier to change my surroundings than myself. It’s easier to put cookies on a high shelf than to boost my willpower.

I talk about all of these tips in Better Than Before, my forthcoming book about habit change. The most fascinating subject in the world. To pre-order, click here. If you’re inclined to buy the book, I’d really appreciate your pre-order. Pre-orders really matter.

 

Video: For Habits, the Strategy of Safeguards.

I’m doing a video series in which I discuss the various strategies that we can use for habit-formation.

Habits are the invisible architecture of everyday life, and a significant element of happiness. If we have habits that work for us, we’re much more likely to be happy, healthy, productive, and creative.

My forthcoming book, Better Than Before, describes the multiple strategies we can exploit to change our habits. To pre-order, click here. (Pre-orders give a real boost to a book, so if you’re inclined to buy the book, I’d really appreciate it if you pre-order it.)

Today, I’m talking about the Strategy of Safeguards.

When it comes to sticking to a good habit, it really helps to plan to fail. What will we do in the face of challenges to the habit?

With the Strategy of Safeguards, you try to anticipate and minimize temptation—both in your environment and in your own mind.

 

For instance, I’ve got the habit of exercise, I’ve been exercising for years, and I feel physically uncomfortable if I go several days without exercise, and yet this habit always feels slightly at risk. There’s a downward pull toward bad habits that requires us to maintain an active, concrete effort to protect our good habits—remarkably, even the good habits that we enjoy.

The Strategy of Safeguards keeps one lapse from turning into a full relapse.

With “if-then” planning, we try to plan for every habit challenge that might arise, so we don’t make decisions in the heat of the moment—we’ve already decided how to behave.

People who use if-then planning are much more likely to stick to their good habits than people who don’t.

As the proverbs hold, “A stumble may prevent a fall” and “He that stumbles, and does not quite fall, gains a step.” I remind myself that a stumble doesn’t mean total failure. In fact, a stumble may be helpful, because it shows me where I need to concentrate my efforts in order to do better next time.

Planning for a stumble during habit formation almost seems like giving ourselves permission to stumble—but it’s not. It’s a way to protect a habit.

How about you? Do you use “if-then” planning to meet a habit challenge? How do you recover from a stumble?

“Discardia,” or How One Moderator Manages to Indulge Moderately.

Over the weekend, I read Delia Ephron’s very amusing and thought-provoking book of essays, Sister Mother Husband Dog: (Etc.).

In her essay “Bakeries,” she describes visiting her favorite bakeries and eating her favorite pastries — granola cookies, pizza bread, pain au chocolat, chocolate chip cookies with walnuts, pistachio donuts — all around New York City.

As I was reading, I was thinking, “Zoikes, how can she be eating all these pastries all the time, without bad health effects?”

Then Ephron explains:

I am lucky to live in carb paradise and I am lucky to be afflicted with a syndrome (disorder?) that my husband calls Discardia — the tendency to throw things away after a few bites unless I fall in love or am really hungry. Thank God for Discardia, or I would be someone who had to be removed from my house with a crane.

When I read this, I thought, “She’s a classic Moderator!”

I’ve concluded that when dealing with temptation, people are either “Moderators” or “Abstainers.” (Take this quiz to find out what you are.)

Moderators do better when they indulge in moderation, and they get panicky if they’re told they can “never” have or do something. They find that a little indulgence satisfies them, and they often lose interest after a few bites. Thus — Discardia!

Abstainers, by contrast, find it tough to start something once they’ve started, but they aren’t troubled by things that are off-limits. They do better when they don’t have that first bite. I’m 100% Abstainer, and life became so much easier for me when I realized that. As my sister the sage, also an Abstainer, explained, “French fries are my Kryptonite. I gave them up, and now I’m free from French fries.”

A Moderator friend told me, “I keep a bar of fine chocolate in my desk, and every day I have one square.” I said, “I could never do that, that chocolate bar would haunt me until it was gone.” (I’ve since learned that many, many Moderators keep a bar of chocolate squirreled away somewhere.)

There’s no right way or wrong way, only what works for a particular individual. While giving up something (like pastries) might sound hard, for me, it’s far easier than it would be to eat just three bites of a pistachio donut.

Delia Ephron’s “Discardia” is a great example of Moderator behavior — and a great example of how one person’s behavior may or may not suit someone else.

In my book Better Than Before, about how we can change our habits, I have a chapter on the Strategy of Abstaining. (To pre-order, click here–buy early and often.) Abstaining works very well for some people, and not at all for others. Abstaining wouldn’t work for Delia Ephron; Discardia wouldn’t work for me.

Because moderation is so often held up as an ideal, and because it sounds so pleasant and less rigid, many people assume they’re Moderators. From what I’ve observed, many people are actually Abstainers. Could you eat three bites of a chocolate cookie with walnuts? I couldn’t. But I can walk right past that bakery. If you’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to act like a Moderator, give the Abstainer approach a chance. I know it sounds harder, but really, for Abstainers, it’s easier.

Moderators, do you have a habit like Discardia? Abstainers, does this sound like something you would do?

In addition to the Abstainer/Moderator issue, some people will be very uneasy at the thought of deliberate food waste.

“A True Home Is the Finest Ideal of Man.”

“A true home is the finest ideal of man.”

— Frank Lloyd Wright, An Autobiography

Agree, disagree?

The challenge, I think, lies in that word “home.”  I became so interested in the idea of “home” that I wrote an entire book about it: Happier at Home.